Delegates Focus on (RE)PACKING at Summer Delegate Assembly

July 25, 2022
by Jon Trotter
Communications Manager

The past several years have been challenging for Virginia Mennonite Conference. Most obvious have been the extended difficulties of navigating COVID-19, but in the past year, VMC also had a crisis of leadership resulting in investigation and resignation of the Executive Conference Minister. Some congregations have left the Conference. The recent resolutions passed at the Special Delegate Session of Mennonite Church USA in May (particularly the Resolution on Repentance and Transformation), have raised tensions and questions about Mennonite Church USA’s current and future direction.

In this space of anxiety and heaviness, the Assembly Vision Team welcomed delegates to the Summer Delegate Assembly to examine what they are carrying in order to repack the essentials that are needed. Introducing the theme on Friday morning’s delegate session, vision team member Moriah Hurst made the distinction of baggage versus luggage. Luggage is what one needs for the trip; baggage is what one thinks they will need or can’t do without.

Lori Friesen, Minister of Care at Zion Mennonite Church and member of the Assembly vision team, led scripture and reflections on each of three sessions to introduce the session theme and guiding questions. Afterwards, table groups spread out in or outside the building to discuss the topic.

The first session, (RE)ALITY CHECK, invited delegates with their group at round tables to share with respect and vulnerability the things they carry and unpack, like a backpacker halfway through the journey may lay out everything on a table and decide what goes back in and what stays. In this session, three persons serving in ministries shared stories of challenge and blessing: Sarah Piper, Lead pastor of Zion Mennonite Church (Broadway, Va.); Gerald Shenk, serving in refugee ministry at Springdale Mennonite Church (Wayesnboro, Va.); and Alfonso Alvarado, serving as church planter and pastor of Iglesia Menonita Monte Moriah (Lacey Spring, Va.)

The second session was about finding the common factors that unite and excite us to partner and fellowship together, entitled “(RE)CLAIMING THE SHARED VISION.” This looked at what items go back into the bag after it has been emptied, at what essential components should be carried in order to most effectively live and share the gospel and be the hands and feet of Christ. In this session, four VMC delegates to the Mennonite Church USA Special Delegate Session gave reflections from that experience: MaryBeth Heatwole Moore, Marian Buckwalter, Andrew Buckwalter Fairfield, and Andrew Cheung. Additionally, Moriah Hurst, Nurture & Faith Development Pastor at Park View Mennonite Church shared a vision for youth ministry in VMC as she has related to the VMC Youth Council, and Caleb Schrock-Hurst, VMC Racial Justice and Equity Leader, updated delegates on the activities of the Racial Justice Task Force.

The third session focused on the first goal of the Virginia Mennonite Conference Strategic Plan on (RE)NEWING RELATIONSHIPS with God, each other, and creation. It also acknowledged the deep pain and lack of trust that became apparent within the Conference through the leadership crisis. Looking forward, this session examined ways to move ahead together even amid the tensions and questions of this current time in the church. Sarah Bixler briefly reported on the VMC Strategic Plan and its goals, which a diverse collection of congregations and districts can embrace and executive together toward the stated shared goals and objectives.

A highlight of the third session, held on Saturday morning, was the introduction of the new VMC interim leadership team. Each of the six members of the team – four ministry persons and two staff members – shared their vision for the team and for Virginia Mennonite Conference in the next several years. The team members are: Craig Maven, Bishop Leslie Francisco III, Maren Hange, Duane Beck, Caleb Schrock-Hurst, and June Miller. (Learn more about these persons and the leadership team.)

More than any recent Assembly gathering, those at the tables had ample time and opportunities to share with their group, using guiding questions for each session. Notes from each table were written down, but there was no open reporting time back to the gathered body at this Assembly. Along with speaker presentations, reflections and scriptures on the theme, and table discussions, participants were invited into worship singing by Chad Miller, Mackenzie Miller, and Christa Hoover.

Evening Services

Thursday: A Church of Many Cultures Celebration
On July 14, Virginia Mennonite Missions (VMMissions) held a meal of thanksgiving and a public evening service of celebration in nearing the end of their $3 million campaign called A Church of Many Cultures. The service at Zion Mennonite Church included worship and commissioning, with worship music by Seth Crissman and friends. Carlos Malvaez, Pastor of the Manantial de Vida congregation, shared a message called “Hope for the Nations,” from Micah 4:1-5. Several current VMMissions workers shared testimonies about the ways their ministries have been enhanced through funds granted by the campaign. Lavonne Lehman, the outgoing chair of the VMMissions Board, was honored for her service by President Aaron Kauffman and the new chair of the board, Paul Yoder. New and reappointed mission workers were commissioned with candles lit to share their light with the world. The workers, VMMissions staff, and the congregation joined in a litany of commissioning, declaring, “Yes! The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!”

Friday: Trissels Mennonite Church Celebrates 200 Years
Outside under the majestic oaks that have shaded generations of God’s people at Trissels, the Friday evening service on July 15 was a look back at the contributions of those who called Trissels their church home since 1822. The service included historic hymns from the red Mennonite Hymnal led by Tim Mumbauer and Dave Yutzy. Pearl Hartman shared on behalf of the VMC Historical Committee by telling the story of an early Swiss Anabaptist Bible printed in German, which the Swiss authorities deemed illegal, and which was taken from Switzerland to Pennsylvania and finally to Page County, Virginia by a family who passed it down over five generations. The journey of this Bible mirrored the journeys of so many European Anabaptists. In Elwood Yoder’s message, “The Holy Spirit Gives Gifts,” he told the stories of many people committed and faithful to the call of God to minister to others in need of the gospel, particularly the Buckhorn area near Mathias, West Virginia. That area was ministered to by many Trissels folks and eventually built a meetinghouse, Buckhorn Mennonite Church. Generations of people since the beginning of the Trissels congregation faithfully contributed to the Great Commission and to Virginia Conference over two hundred years.